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County Board gives nod to $7.5 million energy project

In 2010, the Wadena County Board of Commissioners approved a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for Russell and Susan Nystrom to construct a commercial-grade wind turbine for renewable energy on their property in Section 8 of Aldrich Township.

A year after issuing a CUP, the County can revoke the permit if construction has not yet begun. In this case, the Nystroms have provided written proof that progress has been made on their $7.5 million project. Based on that and the recommendation of the Wadena County Planning & Zoning Commission, the County Board agreed to extend the Nystroms’ CUP for 12 more months during their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, December 13.

“The future looks pretty rosy,” said Russell Nystrom during the meeting.

The Planning Commission reviewed the evidence and recommended the 12-month extension “with advice from legal counsel as to whether they can receive the extension under the ordinance which existed on the date of their application, or if they have to now adhere to the current standards,” wrote County Zoning/Parks Director Deana Skov in her notes to the Board. County Auditor/Treasurer Char West provided the information to the Board on Skov’s behalf, as Skov was unable to attend due to illness.

The Board’s approval included the condition that the setback conditions be adjusted due to the size of the turbine, which is in an agriculturally zoned area that can be seen from Highway 10.

The purpose of the wind turbine, according to Nystrom and its designer Private Energy Systems (PES), Inc., is to use it to develop renewable energy and possibly an anhydrous ammonia plant. The idea is to convert wind energy to make the anhydrous ammonia.

“Is this going to be a retail anhydrous outlet?” Commissioner Ralph Miller asked Nystrom.

“Yes. But community comes first,” Nystrom responded, in part referencing the job opportunities that could be made available to local people.

Indirectly, an estimated 82 jobs would be created for construction of the wind turbine, according to PES, a Midwest energy developer working on behalf of Blackrock Energy, LLC, and the Nystroms. Blackrock Energy has been set up as owner/operator/employer of the yet-to-be constructed turbine.

Another 13 jobs are estimated to be directly created by the project – three associated with the “wind” and 10 more from a type of engineering called “Co-Generation.”

Nystrom assured the Board that the remaining portions of the field around the 1.65 Megawatt turbine will still be able to be used for farming.

The plan includes selling a small percentage of the anhydrous ammonia produced to refrigeration and air conditioning outlets, with the bulk for use by agricultural businesses. The proposed plant may have an estimated production of 400 tons of anhydrous ammonia annually.

The commissioners will consider taking a tour of a U of M-Morris plant that has been working to develop this type of renewable energy.

PES President David Ault included information to the Board that was disputed during the meeting. He wrote, “Todd-Wadena Electrical Co-op (TWEC) has no current interest in renewable energy, nor would they like to support a local renewable energy project that will power as many as 300 local homes and farms in the Wadena-Verndale area with clean power.”

TWEC responded to Ault’s comments with a letter to the Board dated Monday, December 5. In that letter, TWEC General Manager Robin Doege wrote, “Mr. Ault’s comments characterize TWEC as not interested in supporting local projects and renewable energy. TWEC supports both economic development and renewable energy.

“TWEC receives approximately 20 percent of its power from renewable resources (primarily wind and hydropower). Great River Energy (GRE), TWEC’s generation and transmission partner, has over 450 MWs of wind generation under contract today. These renewable resources are shared with TWEC and 27 other Minnesota rural electric cooperatives.”

Tim Pavek of TWEC attended the Board meeting to reinforce this position.

“We’re not opposed to renewable energies…we are very supportive of all types of energy,” Pavek told the Board.

Ault said part of the plan for the plant is to purchase some electricity from TWEC.

The project is being financed in part through a nationally recognized loan provider with 60 percent debt commitment, five percent equity, 30 percent with an ITC/PTC grant and five percent through other grant dollars.

Regular meetings of the Wadena County Board of Commissioners are usually held at 9:00 a.m. the first Tuesday of the month and 9:00 a.m. the third Thursday of the month.